Monday, 24 July 2017

Backup Money

The Winnipeg Jets completed their off-season moves today by signing goaltender Connor Hellebuyck to a new deal before their arbitration date on August 1. Hellebuyck's contract is a one-year deal with $2.25 million, and the Jets' "goalie of the future" knows he needs a big season if there's any hope of him being a fixture in the blue paint in Winnipeg for years to come. With Steve Mason getting nearly twice that for the next two seasons, this contract is a curious one since it neither guarantees Hellebuyck will be here long-term nor does it pay him like a starting netminder in the NHL. I'm struggling with the end goal of this deal if it's not to allow Hellebuyck to prove he's worth Steve Mason money because it seems like he'll be playing behind Mason on most nights.

I'll give Hellebuyck credit in that he said all the right things to the media today, indicating how hungry he is to prove that he belongs in the conversation among the NHL's upper echelon of netminders.

"It's all on the line," the 24-year-old told reporters. "I learned a lot, got a whole lot better, but I have a whole lot more to give. I got more to offer than what I showed last year. I look forward to doing that this year. I'm going to have Mason here and I'm going to learn from him. I owe these guys my best every night."

Look, I appreciate Connor Hellebuyck's commitment to becoming and desire to be the best goaltender he can be. Honestly, that's all you can ask of a player, and the rest really is up to him or her to do whatever is necessary to become the best player he or she can be. But if one were presented with the following stats lines, which goaltender would you say is better after one full season as a starting netminder in the NHL?
I'm not going to reveal who those two stats lines belong to just yet because I want to remind everyone that Connor Hellebuyck's tenure as a starting NHL goalie is one full year. He took over for Ondrej Pavelec whose time in Winnipeg was worn woefully thin due to poor play, and Hellebuyck's inconsistent play gave his detractors enough ammunition to cause the Jets to seek help in the form of Steve Mason. That's not to say that he isn't ready, but maybe he needs someone more reliable than Michael Hutchinson who shoulder some of the load as Hellebuyck grows as a player and netminder.

The stats lines from above? The top one is from Carey Price in his first full season as a starter in the NHL. The second is from Connor Hellebuyck who, as we know, has just completed one full season as a starter. The two stats lines are nearly identical in all major categories: minutes player, goals against, goals-against average, and save percentage. One stat that isn't shown is points percentage - the number of points earned through wins and shootout losses - is also nearly identical with Price having a .538 pts% stat and Hellebuyck having a .500 pts% stat. Does that mean that Connor Hellebuyck is on the same path that Carey Price is in terms of being the best of the best who stops pucks? Not necessarily, but the similarities are there in that Price took a backseat at times to Jaroslav Halak in the season following his first full season as a starter just as Hellebuyck may take a backseat to Mason at times.

What it does mean is that Hellebuyck isn't carrying the load full-time because the coaching staff doesn't have faith in the backup netminder to spell off the starter and earn a win. Hellebuyck is more than capable of winning games most nights, so having a tandem that includes both Mason and Hellebuyck working together should benefit Hellebuyck's overall game.

“I view it as a good thing," Hellebuyck said when asked of Mason joining the team. "It's good for the team and it's going to bring the team some confidence in the net. I'm going to learn from him. He's a veteran guy who's been through the ropes. I'm going to take what I can from him. And you know what? It's going to push us both as goalies."

If the Jets are going to be successful against a number of improved Central Division teams and the rest of the NHL, they'll need high-quality goaltending from both netminders on the roster. If, for some reason, Mason stumbles or is injured, the Jets still have a very capable starter playing behind him. Hellebuyck has a new agent and strength coach this summer, and he feels the changes he's made to his game should benefit his this season. It's still going to be all up to him to put it together, but he's now playing for a contract.

If he plays as well as we've seen him play in some games with extended consistency, he could be looking at a very nice pay day next season when his contract needs to be renewed.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Sunday, 23 July 2017

Journeyman To Stuntman

I was enjoying Sunday the best way that I could, and that included stretching the couch out as I watched a movie or two. One of the movies that I watched today was Pacific Rim, and I'm sure you're aware of the plot and cast who headline this movie. But were you aware that the man to the left, Mr. Jere Gillis, was in the movie? Not only that, but it seems the former pro hockey player has become a working stuntman in Hollywood with a number of appearances in major Hollywood movies! While he played an unnamed Spartan general in 300, he's been taking bumps and performing stunts in nearly 90 movies and even landed a role in Goon in 2011! Not bad for a guy who was considered a journeyman, but Jere Gillis played in a number of very interesting places as well!

Gillis came out of the QMJHL's Sherbrooke Castors program as a high-scoring left winger who scored 38 goals and 95 points in 1974-75, increased his totals to 47 goals and 102 points in his third year with the team, and then capped off his junior career 55-goal, 140-point campaign in 1976-77 that saw him lead the team in scoring ahead of some rather notable players such as Rick Vaive and Jimmy Mann. His work in Sherbrooke saw him drafted in the first round twice: the Canucks selected him fourth-overall in the NHL Entry Draft while the Cincinnati Stingers selected Gillis seventh-overall in the WHA Amamteur Draft.

Gillis would choose the NHL route and began his career in Vancouver where he had a fairly decent rookie season, scoring 23 goals and 41 assists. Unfortunately for Gillis, both those numbers would be career highs as he spent parts of three more seasons in Vancouver where he'd total 26 goals and 59 points before Vancouver traded Gillis and Jeff Bandura to the New York Rangers on November 11, 1980 for Mario Marois and Jim Mayer.

After having played just 11 in Vancouver, Gillis found himself as a bit of a utility player for the Rangers who used him sparingly to fill in for injured players and play certain roles that were needed in specific games. As a result, Gillis saw only 35 games of action in the Big Apple, scoring just ten goals and 20 points. He would begin the next season with the Rangers and see time in 26 games, but he only scored three goals and 12 points before the Rangers decided to trade Gillis and Dean Talafous to the Quebec Nordiques for Robbie Ftorek and an eighth-round pick in the 1982 NHL Entry Draft.

But hold the phone, folks. That trade to Quebec almost didn't happen as Dean Talafous retired after being told that he was being traded, having played just 29 games with the Rangers! Talafous announced his retirement on January 1, 1982 - two days after the Rangers and Nordiques announced their trade deal - throwing the whole deal into chaos. As The New York Times wrote on January 4, 1982,
Then, with no explanation from Coach Herb Brooks, or anyone else, Talafous was benched for four games. He decided, on the afternoon of the Rangers-Islanders game last Wednesday, to ask Craig Patrick, the general manager, what was wrong. Patrick told him he had just been traded, with Jere Gillis, to the Nordiques for Robbie Ftorek.

On New Year's Day, Talafous decided that he would retire rather than play for Quebec, a decision that has tangled the trade in confusion and led to a league decision enjoining any of the players involved from playing for any team while the league studies the deal. Quebec claims the retirement nullifies the trade; the Rangers insist the deal was made in good faith and is valid.
With both sides holding a different opinion on how this problem should be resolved, the NHL ruled that the trade could stand with the understanding that the Rangers and Nordiques would have to reach an agreement on a second Rangers player that was to be sent to Quebec by March 9, 1982. As you'd expect, the teams could not come to an agreement on a player, so an NHL arbitrator completed the deal by awarding Pat Hickey to Quebec on March 8, 1982 to finalize the terms of the deal. How crazy is that drama? Wow.

Getting back to the man of the hour, Gillis' arrival in Quebec City wasn't filled with fanfare, and he didn't spent much time in vieux Quebec. After just 12 games where he posted two goals and a helper, Quebec sent him to the AHL's Fredericton Express where he'd play 28 games, scoring two goals and adding 17 assists. Fredericton would miss the AHL Calder Cup Playoffs as the worst team in the eleven-team circuit.

Gillis would not spend another full season in the NHL after that demotion. He would play 37 games in two separate seasons for the Canucks in a second go-around with the team, but Gillis would spend time with Buffalo and Rochester where he'd help the Americans to the best AHL record and capture the 1983 Calder Cup, Vancouver and Fredericton, and Philadlephia and Hershey from 1982 until 1987. None of those locales would remain as a permanent home for Gillis, and he began to look elsewhere for opportunities.

With his career seemingly nearing an end in the NHL, Gillis decided to take his game overseas to Italy where he suited up for Italy-A's Brunico SG. He would join former Washington Capital Rick Bragnalo on Brunico, and Gillis would finish fourth in team scoring in 1987-88 with 20 goals and 36 points to help Brunico to a 15-18-3 record. In comparison, Kent Nilsson was absolutely crushing the Italian league, helping Bolzano HC to a 30-3-3 record while scoring 60 goals and 72 assists in just 36 games - and he finished second in league scoring!

Gillis hung up the skates following his season in Italy, but the lure of the game called him back as he decided to join the British Hockey League's Solihull Barons at the age of 31 in 1988-89. It seemed the time off may have recharged Gillis' batteries because he ripped off 46 goals and 47 assists in just 18 games with the Barons! Incredibly, the Barons still managed to go 9-21-3 to finish eighth out of ten teams in the British Hockey Leagues "Premier" Division - essentially, their ECHL level of hockey. Yikes!

Gillis would stick around for another season in Solihull where he'd add 50 goals and 35 assists in 30 games, helping the Barons to a fourth-place finish with a 16-15-1 record. He would lead the Barons in scoring by 31 points over teammate Jim Lynch, but his 85 points trailed league-leading scorer Gerard Waslen who racked up an impressive 116 goals and 201 points in just 32 games while also leading the league in penalty minutes with 149 PIMs! Who was this Waslen kid?!?

Gillis would move to a new BHL team the following season as he took his game to the Peterborough Pirates! His season wouldn't be long, though, as he only played six games with the Pirates before retiring from the game for a second time. In those six game, though, he tore up the league again by scoring 13 goals and adding four helpers. He still finished as the seventh-highest scorer for Peterborough despite playing one-sixth of the games that everyone else played!

The game still called to him, though, as Gillis remained in Britain to take a coaching job with the BHL's Telford Tigers in the top division. He had a great run in Telford that season, coaching the team to a 21-9-6 record, good for fourth-place in the top division! While hockey played a large role in his life for many years, it was in retirement in Quebec where GillisN discovered and converted to Scientology. Now, HBIC doesn't get into religion for the sake of everyone's sanity, but according to Gillis, "I made it to the NHL but Scientology has made me more successful. It has given me an understanding of life and relationships that cleared up a lot of 'advice' that I had before. And life is great!"

At the age of 39, Gillis decided to give the ol' hockey career one more kick at the can when he joined the Quebec Senior Professional Hockey League's Acton Vale Nova in 1996-97. That experiment lasted all of five games, and while he did record three assists Gillis walked away from the game for good after that stint. When all was totaled on his career, Gillis didn't have Hall of Fame numbers, but he played in a number of cities in countries around the world, got to see the world while he was playing hockey, and he even picked up a few accolades along the way. There's nothing wrong with that kind of career!

It is his second career, though, where's he's seen all sorts of success! Gillis might be one of Hollywood's most in-demand stuntmen as he's been working on major Hollywood films since 2002! Among his many credits are:
  • The Sum of All Fears starring Ben Affleck and Morgan Freeman.
  • Shattered Glass where he was Hayden Christensen's stunt double.
  • The Day After Tomorrow starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Emmy Rossum.
  • The Notebook starring Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams.
  • Death Race starring Jason Statham and Tyrese Gibson.
  • Pacific Rim starring Charlie Hunnam and Idris Elba.
Honestly, his stuntman career might be more rewarding than his hockey career at this point! He's been a part of a number of blockbuster movies, he's even appeared in a handful of roles, and he's still working! For one of five NHL players born in Oregon, Jere Gillis has made an outstanding life for himself after hockey. He's a member of SAG, ACTRA, and UDA, so you know he's a professional.

Honestly, you won't see Jere Gillis' name on many major trophies or in a Hall of Fame for hockey, but his life off the ice is far more interesting after he found himself as a part of Hollywood's lore. With 90 movies to his name, he's worked alongside some of the biggest names in Hollywood while playing against some of the best athletes the sport of hockey has to offer. How many other people on this planet can say that?

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Saturday, 22 July 2017

You're Not Naming Our Team

This port city on the coast of Casco Bay and just a stretch of water away from Yarmouth, Nova Scotia is Portland, Maine. Portland used to have an AHL team called the Pirates, but that team unfortunately no longer exists as the franchise was transferred to Springfield, Massachusetts following poor attendance in Portland. Regardless of what happened in the AHL, the ECHL decided not to pass up an opportunity to expand into a hockey market with rich history, granting an expansion team to Comcast Spectacor to play in Portland in the 2017-18 ECHL season. With that being said, Comcast Spectacor has turned to the public for some help in naming the new franchise!

I'm all for fans naming a team as long as that name is something respectable. For a coastal city like Portland, there could be a number of names that one could choose with a naval theme or a water-themed name and everything would be fine. The other option would be to name the team after something that makes Portland, Maine unique. It could be something from the city's history, a specific point of interest, or something that Portland is known for when speaking about the city. To me, a name like "Mariners" seems appropriate, but may be a little too elementary for this contest.

"We are looking for a team name that connects the team to the area and with the fans; one that best represents Portland, Cumberland County, Southern Maine, and the competitive nature of this region," Danny Briere, Vice President of Hockey Operations for Portland Hockey, said at the press conference on Thursday. "This is Portland's team, and we want Portland to name this team."

And apparently they are dead-set on letting someone from the Portland region name this team. I've taken the liberty of bolding a portion of the statement below, but this is the statement found on the Portland, Maine hockey website.
The winner of the Name the Team contest will win 4 season tickets to the inaugural season, a team signed jersey and participate in the ceremonial puck drop on opening night!

Winner must be 18 years of age and a resident of Maine, New Hampshire or Massachusetts. Submissions must be made by August 14, 11:59 PM
I guess my "Mariners" name won't be selected unless I decided to move to Maine, New Hampshire, or Massachusetts.

Look, I get that you want a direct connection to fans in your region. There's nothing wrong with building support and community involvement through a "Name the Team" contest, and I wholeheartedly hope that people in that region take an interest and submit names. But why wouldn't they try to include more fans from additional regions who don't have a loyalty to any ECHL team and may find one with this new Portland-based franchise? I don't have any loyalty, and I'd love to win the team-signed jersey. If I won, I'd donate my season tickets to a children's charity in Portland so that more kids could attend games and I'd donate my puck-drop ceremony to that same charity where one of the children and his or her parents could take part in the festivities. If Portland Hockey Incorporated is going to exclude a major part of their fanbase - kids under the age of 18 - with this contest, I'd be more than happy to do my part to get more kids to their games.

I'm not saying that I know a heckuva lot of the history in the Portland area. I'm not saying I know anything about how to run a contest or how to market a hockey franchise. I do know that by excluding kids, the team may be cutting off a vast number of fans, both young and old, who will probably make up a large segment of the team's fanbase by excluding kids from the contest. No one says you have to select nine year-old Johnny's selection for the team name, but at least let the kids play when it comes to something fun like this! The buy-in from kids would be immediate, and that will rub off on their parents who will probably take little Johnny and Jenny to games to see their new team.

Here's hoping the Portland ECHL franchise gets a great name, comes up with amazing jerseys, and finds immediate success on the ice. The fans will play a major part in that success, especially early on when the name is chosen and logo is designed. Remember, Portland fans, Danny Briere told you, "This is Portland's team, and we want Portland to name this team."

But only if you're 18 or older. And live in Maine, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts. And subscribe to Comcast TV, internet, and every other service they offer. And have voted in the recent election. And have seen a live hockey game in Portland. Anyone else want to place more exclusionary limitations on whose team this really is?

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Friday, 21 July 2017

The Free Agent Pipe Dream

I'm not sure if he just likes seeing his name in the news or if he's somewhat serious, but it sounds as though the 2017-18 season will be Ilya Kovalchuk's last in the KHL as he's planning to return to the NHL in 2018-19 when he becomes an unrestricted free agent. While this may catch the attention of some NHL GMs, you have to think that Ray Shero's comments about not having the opportunity to turn down deals for Kovalchuk this summer should be a cautionary flag for the Kovalchuk camp in the NHL's desire to see Kovalchuk return to North American rinks.

The fact that Kovalchuk will be a free agent means that a few GMs will kick the tires on what will be a 35 year-old winger. The issue that presents itself is that contracts given to 35 year-old players are fully guaranteed as per the CBA. For a player who reportedly has lost a step in the KHL as age has begun to catch up to him, I'm going to doubt that many teams will show up with bundles of money to sign the aging star when he's been out of the league for nearly six seasons.

That's not to say there won't be interest, though. For a guy who scored 32 goals and 78 points in helping SKA St. Petersburg win the Gagarin Cup, he has shown that he can still pull the trigger in the KHL and his play-making abilities are still there on the big ice. The critics, however, will point to the KHL and state that the game play is more akin to what you'd see in the AHL, so make of that what you will. There will be a few GMs who could offer a short-term deal who would want to see the sniper bag 25-or-more goals just as he did in nine of ten full NHL seasons.

As stated above, a few GMs called Shero about the availability of Kovalchuk via a trade earlier this summer, but Shero told Andrew Gross of NorthJersey.com he never received a trade proposal from any team.

"It was, 'I talked to this team, that team, do you mind following up?' Which I did, and like I said, I never had an offer I turned down," Shero told Gross. "He had to get a deal somewhere. That was step one. Nothing happens with him. That never happened, at least to bring to me for me to consider anything. So again whatever happened in that process, I don't know. It wasn't my business, it was theirs. I was ready for point B but never got there."

Now it would seem like Shero left it up to Kovalchuk to make a deal with another team which is find for Shero to do, but Shero also added in the Gross interview that he was under the understanding that Kovalchuk would become a free agent in 2018. "Yes," he stated, "that's been the understanding all along. Won't have to go through this again."

In hearing that, I could see why Shero fielded zero offers on Kovalchuk. If a team can wait one season until he becomes a free agent, there's no sense in dealing players or picks for a guy who may want to play elsewhere anyway once he hits unrestricted free agency. But even if he had found a deal and some team traded for Kovalchuk, you still have to do the due diligence and find out what you're getting prior to making the deal and possibly signing Kovalchuk beyond 2018-19. With teams having scouts everywhere across the world now, it might more prudent than ever to really know what you're getting when you see who Kovalchuk's linemates were last season as well.

Look, this isn't a debate about whether Kovalchuk is coming back to the NHL. He is, and that much we can be sure of from his statements today. What the debate is about is signing a point-per-game player in the KHL to a guaranteed contract in the NHL for some term. Anything more than three years is ludicrous when you consider the number of 38 year-old players in the NHL today, but you'd have to expect that at 35 years of age Kovalchuk would want three years to make it worth his while. And term will most likely dictate what he's paid as well since that contract is guaranteed whether he plays, retires (again), or simply sits in the press box watching.

If your GM is a cautious man, I could see him trying to buy low on this one for a shorter term with the promise that the next deal, if Kovalchuk can bring in good returns, would make up the difference. If your GM is gambling man, I could see someone plunking down a three-year deal for $4 million in the hopes that Kovalchuk immediately brings results.

If you're Kovalchuk, though, there may only be five or six teams you're willing to even listen to when it comes to trying to win a Stanley Cup. Those teams are usually near the cap as it is, so Kovalchuk may be forced to take less in order to win. Whatever the answer is, we'll know Ilya Kovalchuk's strategy next summer on July 1. Until then, there is an NHL season to play and a KHL season to play, and anything can happen between now and then.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Thursday, 20 July 2017

The Hockey Show - Episode 252

The Hockey Show is a little late in getting this up today as the last twenty-four hours have been extremely busy, but here we are nonetheless. Tonight, Teebz is flying solo in terms of our regular hosts as Beans is off conducting a little family celebration as a birthday is happening, so we'll toss out some good wishes on that front. He will be joined by a special guest host, though, and the two will spend some time discussing a wide-range of topics as The Hockey Show gets back to its roots! Oh, and if you like winning stuff, tonight's show will have a couple of cool prizes up for grabs!

Tonight, The Hockey Show is proud and privileged to welcome a man who has been heard on Bisons hockey broadcasts as The Manitoban's Jason Pchajek sits down with Teebz in-studio! Jason covers all sports at the University of Manitoba and outside the campus as well as contributing on several other non-sports stories during his time at the university newspaper! He's extremely well-versed in the ongoings of the hockey world, so we're honoured he can spend some time with us! Among the topics we'll be covering tonight will be the recent slate of signings by the Winnipeg Jets and whether that will be enough to vault them past the usual suspects in the Central Division for a playoff spot, why the Moose seem to be content with being eliminated from the AHL's Calder Cup Playoffs by Christmas, CWHL expansion and relocation, the new recruits by the Manitoba Bisons men's hockey team, why this year might be THE YEAR for the Manitoba Bisons women's hockey team, is Letterkenny the best Canadian comedy right now, the upcoming final season of 19-2 and what that drama means to Canadian TV, and we'll give away some clothing compliments of the Sami Jo Small Hockey School and Rebel Pizza! There's lots happening, so make sure you tune in tonight!

I wouldn't repeat it week after week if it wasn't important. Download the UMFM app on your phone or tablet! It's the easiest and most convenient way to listen to any of UMFM's great shows any time of the day, so go get it! Just follow this link on your iDevice or this link for your Android device and get the UMFM app! It's never been easier to tune into The Hockey Show or UMFM! Download the UMFM app today, and don't miss any of our great programming or shows!

If you prefer social media, we try to up-to-speed there as well! Email all show questions and comments to hockeyshow@umfm.com! Tweet me anytime with questions you may have by hitting me up at @TeebzHBIC on Twitter. You can also post some stuff to Facebook if you use the "Like" feature, and I always have crazy stuff posted there that doesn't make it to the blog or show.

Tonight, Teebz welcomes one of the upcoming-and-coming writers in Manitoba to the show as Jason Pchajek makes an appearance to talk hockey, Jared Keeso projects, and more only on The Hockey Show found on 101.5 UMFM and on the UMFM app!

PODCAST: July 20, 2017: Episode 252

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!